A 3 percent state worker pay raise is agreed upon by House and Senate budget negotiators, but a larger teacher pay raise package remains unsettled.
TALLAHASSEE — A 3%, across-the-board pay raise for state workers emerged as one of the first deals settled as negotiations started Saturday between House and Senate conferees trying to finalize a roughly $92 billion state budget.
Pay raises have rarely been handed out to the state’s public employee work force by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
But the House and Senate early on this election year both came up with dueling pay hike proposals and included them in budget blueprints the two sides are now trying to reconcile.
As talks began Saturday, Senate budget chief Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the 3% across-the-board boost, which had been the Senate’s approach, was agreed on.
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“It’s been said that war is hell, but keeping peace is not that easy either,” House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami, told budget negotiators as they began talks.
Most state workers have received pay increases only in two of the past 12 years, and lost 3% of their salaries to new pension contributions required by Republican lawmakers in 2011.
According to the state Department of Management Services, there are about 90,000 employees in the state personnel system.
The pay hike was among a handful of issues settled as lawmakers approach the legislative session’s homestretch. The Legislature’s final scheduled day is Friday, but lawmakers are already talking about extending that deadline by a couple of days.
Among the deals cut was a decision to finance embattled Visit Florida, the state’s tourist marketing agency, for another year at $50 million, and to fund the state’s affordable housing program at its full $387 million, with the House dropping efforts to siphon off cash for spending elsewhere in the budget.
Oliva has sought to eliminate Visit Florida, and state law has the agency set to expire June 30. But that shutdown date is certain to be stretched another year as the agency draws another installment of its current $50 million budget.
But the speaker said he still questions why the state is putting taxpayer dollars into tourism marketing.
“Visit Florida deserves credit for marketing, at least inside the Legislature,” Oliva said. “What they do outside will remain in doubt, in my view, forever.”
The bottom-line on a pay hike for teachers, which Gov. Ron DeSantis first put in play, also became settled Saturday night. But at $500 million, it falls short of the $602 million plan the governor outlined.
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An additional $300 million bonus plan for principals and teachers, which was sought by DeSantis, also has been off the table for a while. Neither the House nor Senate had supported it in their rival budget proposals.
While the House had pushed for $650 million for teacher pay, House PreK-12 Appropriations Chairman Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, said Saturday that his side had accepted the Senate’s $500 million offer.
Details of how the raises will be distributed are still to be finalized, Latvala said. DeSantis’s goal was strictly to raise minimum teacher salaries in Florida to $47,500, which was an eye-catching figure that would make Florida second only to New Jersey among state base pay for educators.
But many school districts pushed back against the governor’s idea, joined by the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, which ridiculed DeSantis’s plan for not doing anything for experienced teachers.
Both the House and Senate countered DeSantis by earmarking a portion of their pay raise pot for veteran teachers. Latvala said he thought the House’s more robust approach toward helping experienced teachers will be part of the final plan still to be worked out between lawmakers.
“Five-hundred million dollars is certainly something to be proud of,” Latvala said.
House-Senate conference committees were to work through the weekend, with Cummings and Bradley taking over the final budget-crafting early Monday afternoon.
Florida has a constitutionally required 72-hour waiting period between the time the budget is agreed to and published, and when final votes can be taken in the House and Senate.